Emirati woman on mission to make cyberspace safer

Fatima Ali has created a internet safety report that could help decision makers and institutions enhance the UAE’s cybersecurity



By Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Sat 24 Sep 2022, 3:31 PM

Last updated: Sat 24 Sep 2022, 3:38 PM

Global statistics reveal that more than half the world’s population — individuals, institutions, and governments — are internet users, but what percentage of that number are actually aware of their cybersecurity?

It is a well-known fact that the net is not the safest of places on the planet. However, thanks to the efforts of young Emirati researchers like Fatima Ali from Abu Dhabi, the cyberspace on which our daily lives depend, is kept safe and sheltered for residents.

Fatima has worked on a comprehensive internet safety review aimed at influencing decision makers and institutions at a federal and local level. The report was published by the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government.

Her research, which is backed by a benchmarking exercise and best practices to help create a loophole-free online experience, looks at strategies to enhance the UAE’s cybersecurity praxis, while also providing policy recommendations to the relevant stakeholders.

Among Fatima’s critical findings were the issue of outdated software, relative lack of awareness about cyber threats among the general population, and lack of capacities.

The findings also pointed to several policy measures and regulations that need to be deployed to advance cybersecurity practices in the UAE.

These include authorising professional white-hat hackers to conduct bug bounty programmes which are offered by several websites across the country, and use their know-how to train and qualify UAE specialists and cadres.

Fatima’s report, which was developed during her second Master's Degree in Public Policy, stresses on the importance of raising awareness, including mandatory induction programmes at the workplace and digital citizenship classes in school curricula.

Fatima also notes that the UAE has made significant progress in building a strong cybersecurity environment, with cybersecurity strategies, laws, and initiatives through collaboration between government, academia, and the private sector.

However, despite efforts to make the UAE a ‘digital nation’ through initiatives like The UAE Promise, 5G, and digital government, she says there is a need to update software systems at hospitals, schools, or institutions to help in bridging the systems sophistication gap between federal and local governments, as well as public and private establishments.

All types of awareness and levels of protection are needed for staff at government entities, businesses, society, and individuals, the report adds.

According to Fatima’s research, the UAE has one of the highest social media penetration rates globally with 98.9% of the population active on social media. The report notes that the growing importance of cybersecurity is evident by the size of its market, which is estimated at Dh1.8 billion in the UAE alone, and Dh18 billion in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Driven by particularly strong growth in the GCC, the MENA cybersecurity markets are expected to be worth more than Dh36 billion by the end of 2022.

As a result, Fatima recommends that effective legislative frameworks need to be coupled with supporting standards and policies to empower and guide against the latest cyber risks and threats across all of the government-defined sectors with a priority to protect critical assets which include energy, electricity, and water, government, information and communications technology, finance and insurance, emergency services, health services, transportation, food, and agriculture.

The report also observes that where there is an increased reliance on digitalisation in the UAE there is an increased need for capacity building in the field as it is well documented that globally cybersecurity teams are reactive rather than proactive, and suffer shortages which leads to resourcing.

To the UAE’s credit, the research maintains that the country has been innovative about cybersecurity and is constantly introducing new initiatives to deal with all cybersecurity aspects. The UAE has jumped 33 places since the last edition of the Global Cybersecurity Index, ranking 5th among 193 countries, underscoring its efforts to improve cybersecurity practices in the country.

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